FanPost

One Thing I know - There's Always the Unknown.

Predicting a Star

One of the toughest things to do in sports is accurately predict a star.  In baseball this process comes to a head during contract negotiations with players still under team control.  The question; is this player worth spending money on when the alternative is a younger/ cheaper player or a more expensive free agent that you have a better idea of his qualities?  When evaluating a talent there are so many factors that go into it.  What will the player do with the opportunity?  Does the player have an Injury history?  How determined is he to improve and will that decline with the new lifestyle big money will bring?  Is the player mature enough to handle the added pressure of new expectations?  Most importantly, what is the player's ability?   To illustrate this better let's compare the Twins organization in 1995 and the Twins in 2011.

Look back at the 1995-2001 Twins teams.  You would think some of those players during the Twins "Dark Ages" would be here making some sort of contribution to Major League Baseball if not to specifically the Twins.  The Twins were playing very young players on some very bad teams giving them tremendous opportunity to develop into regular MLB players.  This would be much like the 1980-1986 Twins.  Play a bunch of young guys and then see where the chips fall.  That group included Kent Hrbek, Greg Gagne & Kirby Puckett.  All 3 won 2 championships, and another (Frank Viola) was traded in 1988 that gave us major pieces (Rick Aguileria and Kevin Tapani) for the second championship in 1991.  Throw in Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunanski & Tim Laudner and you have a core of players that can compete at a high level.  Moving past those great Twins teams into the awful one's of the late 90's and you will see a sharp contrast into the overall talent that was produced.

 

Here are some of the young players that got AB's for the Minnesota Twins each year starting in 1995:

1995

 

Age

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

C

Matt Walbeck#

25

115

422

393

40

101

18

1

1

44

3

1

25

71

0.257

0.302

0.316

0.617

61

1B

Scott Stahoviak*

25

94

296

263

28

70

19

0

3

23

5

1

30

61

0.266

0.341

0.373

0.714

86

2B

Chuck Knoblauch

26

136

629

538

107

179

34

8

11

63

46

18

78

95

0.333

0.424

0.487

0.911

136

SS

Pat Meares

26

116

425

390

57

105

19

4

12

49

10

4

15

68

0.269

0.311

0.431

0.742

90

LF

Marty Cordova

25

137

579

512

81

142

27

4

24

84

20

7

52

111

0.277

0.352

0.486

0.839

115

CF

Rich Becker*

23

106

438

392

45

93

15

1

2

33

8

9

34

95

0.237

0.303

0.296

0.599

57

DH

Pedro Munoz

26

104

400

376

45

113

17

0

18

58

0

3

19

86

0.301

0.338

0.489

0.827

112

UT

Matt Lawton*

23

21

70

60

11

19

4

1

1

12

1

1

7

11

0.317

0.414

0.467

0.881

129

1B

Dave McCarty

25

25

61

55

10

12

3

1

0

4

0

1

4

18

0.218

0.279

0.309

0.588

53

1996

 

Age

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

3B

Todd Walker*

23

25

89

82

8

21

6

0

0

6

2

0

4

13

0.256

0.281

0.329

0.61

54

1997

 

Age

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

UT

David Ortiz*

21

15

51

49

10

16

3

0

1

6

0

0

2

19

0.327

0.353

0.449

0.802

107

C

Javier Valentin#

21

4

7

7

1

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

0.286

0.286

0.286

0.571

50

1998

 

Age

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

3B

Corey Koskie*

25

11

31

29

2

4

0

0

1

2

0

0

2

10

0.138

0.194

0.241

0.435

12

C

A.J. Pierzynski*

21

7

13

10

1

3

0

0

0

1

0

0

1

2

0.3

0.385

0.3

0.685

82

 

 

Age

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

SS

Cristian Guzman#

21

131

456

420

47

95

12

3

1

26

9

7

22

90

0.226

0.267

0.276

0.543

38

LF

Chad Allen

24

137

523

481

69

133

21

3

10

46

14

7

37

89

0.277

0.33

0.395

0.725

82

1B

Doug Mientkiewicz*

25

118

379

327

34

75

21

3

2

32

1

1

43

51

0.229

0.324

0.33

0.655

66

CF

Jacque Jones*

24

95

347

322

54

93

24

2

9

44

3

4

17

63

0.289

0.329

0.46

0.789

97

1995

 

Age

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

SP

Brad Radke

22

11

14

0.44

5.32

29

28

0

2

1

0

181

195

112

107

32

47

0

75

SP

Frankie Rodriguez

22

5

6

0.455

5.38

16

16

0

0

0

0

90.1

93

64

54

8

47

0

45

RP

Pat Mahomes

24

4

10

0.286

6.37

47

7

16

0

0

3

94.2

100

74

67

22

47

1

67

RP

Eddie Guardado*

24

4

9

0.308

5.12

51

5

10

0

0

2

91.1

99

54

52

13

45

2

71

 

LaTroy Hawkins

22

2

3

0.4

8.67

6

6

0

1

0

0

27

39

29

26

3

12

0

9

1996

 

Age

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

CL

Dave Stevens

26

3

3

0.5

4.66

49

0

38

0

0

11

58

58

31

30

12

25

2

29

 

Travis Miller*

23

1

2

0.333

9.23

7

7

0

0

0

0

26.1

45

29

27

7

9

0

15

1997

 

Age

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

 

Dan Serafini*

23

2

1

0.667

3.42

6

4

1

1

0

0

26.1

27

11

10

1

11

0

15

1998

 

Age

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

SP

Eric Milton*

22

8

14

0.364

5.64

32

32

0

1

0

0

172.1

195

113

108

25

70

0

107

1999

 

Age

W

L

W-L%

ERA

G

GS

GF

CG

SHO

SV

IP

H

R

ER

HR

BB

IBB

SO

SP

Mike Lincoln

24

3

10

0.231

6.84

18

15

0

0

0

0

76.1

102

59

58

11

26

0

27

RP

Joe Mays

23

6

11

0.353

4.37

49

20

8

2

1

0

171

179

92

83

24

67

2

115

 

Mark Redman*

25

1

0

1

8.53

5

1

0

0

0

0

12.2

17

13

12

3

7

0

11

 

J.C. Romero*

23

0

0

 

3.72

5

0

3

0

0

0

9.2

13

4

4

0

0

0

4

 

The Importance of the Core

Looking back at the failures of the late 90's Twins there are only a few players that went on to solid MLB careers.  AJ Pierzynski and David Ortiz have been MLB starters for most of their career with other ball clubs while JC Romero, Christian Guzman & Eddie Guardado have had serviceable careers.  That is a far cry from the great players the Twins have developed more recently.  It isn't any wonder why the Twins struggled so mightily and were nearly contracted after the 2001 season.

Now, let's fast forward to 2011 and beyond.  Looking at the young players on this team over the last few years that may contribute in years to come include Joe Mauer (now 27 years old), Delmon Young (24), Denard Span (26), Justin Morneau (29) Francisco Liriano (27).  These players have been with the club for a while, have gotten great MLB experience and are locked up for a significant amount of time or are under team control for a while.  There is no guarantee that Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel will stick around beyond 2011 but they have been additional players that were brought up at a young age, produced and are still producing for the Twins.

 

It Takes Money

Financial improvements have been an obvious asset to the Twins since Target Field was built.  Look at the payroll from the 1998 Twins team (www.thebaseballcube.com)   Attendance:  1,057,667    Payroll:  $24,527,500  

Here is the 2010 attendance and payroll information (www.thebaseballcube.comAttendance:  3,223,640  Payroll:  $97,559,167

When you do some quick math you will see that with an average ticket price at the Metrodome in 1995 being $24.00 (times attendance) you get a payroll equivalent of just over $25M.  With an average ticket increase (up to $34.50) and a larger attendance number you get a payroll equivalent of just over $111M. 

 This illustrates a different issue than our topic though.  There is definitely two cogs to professional sports success.  One is the ability to keep their core players around like the Twins have the ability to do now.  The other is a group of young core players the Twins did not possess in the late 90's.  Two players that we could not keep here for financial reasons were Chuck Knoblauch (who we turned into Christian Guzman and Eric Milton) and Pat Mears (who got his one big MLB contract with the Pirates and disappeared).  Torii Hunter was not resigned for financial reasons but it was only because Anaheim overpaid so much for his services that we really had no choice but to let him go.  Johan Santana was offered $20M per year by the Twins but took a longer contract with the New York Mets along with a slightly higher per year salary.  David Ortiz was almost a project player when he was with the Twins.  He was a high strikeout guy who was having trouble staying healthy.  I don't think anyone was dumbfounded that we didn't keep him at the time.  Some Twins brass wanted to keep him but nobody foresaw what Ortiz was going to become.  And it wasn't until he entered an environment of Manny Ramirez, et al., that he blossomed into the homerun hitter that destroyed teams at the beginning of this decade.  A.J. was turned into Liriano and Joe Nathan and was being pushed out by Mauer anyways so his departure wasn't much to do with finance either.  All in all the Twins just weren't developing players in the late 90's and they were not going to break their financial and developmental model because of this either.

That brings us to the topic that is staring the Twins (and every other organization for that matter) in the face.  Who to invest in, how much to invest in them, who to let go, who to trade for, who fits in & who doesn't.

 

Looking at the Twins roster there are some question marks and some sure things.

C - Joe Mauer, would the Twins sign him to a mammoth contract only to turn him into Wade Boggs? Possibly, but the unusual move of trading a top catching prospect (Wilson Ramos) for a dispatched closer makes it look like either A) they think they can develop a catcher relatively quick or B) they think very highly of Jose Morales.  Most likely it is C) Mauer is the Twins catcher at present and foreseeable future.

162 Game Avg.

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

TB

GDP

IBB

Wade Boggs

162

713

610

100

200

38

4

8

67

2

2

94

49

0.328

0.415

0.443

0.858

130

270

16

12

Joe Mauer

162

693

599

98

196

39

3

16

91

7

2

84

68

0.327

0.407

0.481

0.888

136

288

19

15

1B - Justin Morneau needs to stay healthy and the Twins have a great first baseman for through the 2013 season.

2B - Assuming the Twins can sign Tsuyoshi Nishioka the Twins will have their #2 hitter and second baseman for some time.

3B - Danny Valencia will get every opportunity to keep that position warm for a couple of years.  But is he the guy that will deserve a post team-control contract?  Time will tell.  He hit great last year and I hope that continues.  Right now I don't see the Twins investing in him unless he develops power.

SS - JJ Hardy, Alexi Casilla & Brendan Harris have all got relatively equal shots with the Twins over the last couple of years.  None of them are jump off the pages types of players.  Are any of them serviceable enough to pay big money for?  I will go ahead and answer that for you now... no.  JJ appears to be the best of the bunch but he doesn't show any dynamic qualities that warrant the type of money he will be asking for.

LF - Delmon Young got in shape last year and blossomed.  He should continue to progress.  If he can become a better outfielder he will demand huge money.  Otherwise, he is a DH playing left field.  That still should get him paid by the Twins.

CF - Denard Span is locked up for 3 more years.  Even though Twins fans didn't think he had a very good year in CF he was still among the best center fielders in overall range.  Spacious Target Field will make a lot of players look average and I think year two out there will be much better for him.  It doesn't help that he had 2 poor outfielders on either side of him for the better part of the season.

RF - Michael Cuddyer is exactly what people say he is and what his stats say he is.  Unfortunately for the Twins he is vastly overpaid at the moment & should start to decline very soon.  Billy Smith and more specifically Ron Gardenhire will try to keep Cuddy around but with the Twins great minor league outfielders & Cuddyer's contract demands there is little to no chance that he will be back after 2011.

DH - Jason Kubel is the DH for now but with the talent in the Twins Minor League system I wonder if this isn't his last year with them.  Moving Delmon to DH and 4th outfielder makes more sense for 2012 and beyond than it does to keep both of them.  Kubel is one of the best fastball hitters in baseball but sitting in the 7 hole in Minnesota doesn't lend him to too many fastball opportunities.  I don't see any scenarios where he hits in front of Morneau or Mauer to get those fastballs either.  Unless the Twins get a steal of a contract long-term for Kubel I don't see him sticking around.

SP - Here is the Twins motto; Get their young pitchers to throw strikes, minimize walks and let their defense do their work.  This philosophy also signals the end to the guys like Kubel & Delmon in the corner outfield spots.  Target Field is just too big for the likes of their defensive ability.  The primary idea behind this low walk philosophy is that pitchers like this are easy to replace and usually inexpensive to keep.  The pitchers that demand huge contracts in MLB are generally low ERA and high K guys.  One highly paid pitcher per Twins staff is the usual norm with a better than average bullpen to support young/ underpaid starters.  Baker, Duensing & Blackburn fit the bill perfectly.  Pavano was perfect too but unfortunately he will get a $36M+ deal this off-season which would keep him off the Twins future plans sheet.  That money will have to go to Liriano instead.  The system is ready to roll with more MLB #3's with the likes of Kyle Gibson, Anthony Swarzak, David Bromberg, et al.  Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins do not fit the mold in Minnesota.  They are in constant disagreement with Joe Mauer and the Twins management about the style of pitching & the pitch selection.  Perkins may fit better as a long reliever.  Once arbitration comes calling both he and Slowey will have to find work elsewhere.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing for either of them.  A change of scenery may do them good.

RP - Joe Nathan is on his last run with the Twins.  The most effective closer in Twins history will give it one more shot this year.  It is very, very rare for a pitcher to come back from the type of surgery that he did and regain past form immediately.  Jesse Crain is not expected to be back, neither is Matt Guerrier.  That is good news for some Twins fans as both have drawn the ire of some fans over their tenure.  The truth is though that Guerrier is one of the most effective late inning pitchers in baseball the last 3+ years and Crain was one of the best in baseball last year.  The unknown of Nathan and that of Pat Neshek will have the Twins scrambling for the next batch of Twins relief help.  There steps in Rob Delaney, Anthony Slama and Alex Burnett.  Those 3 along with Jose Mijares will have to be huge for the Twins.  If Nathan & Neshek don't return to form there could be huge problems ahead.  The solution might have to come from outside the organization but I don't see the Twins spending money on a relief free agent including former Twin Grant Balfour.

 

The Slow Cycle

It is always a slow cycle up for Twins prospects.  The good news is though it is still a cycle up.  In some clubs it is a perpetual wait.  If you look at some of the teams out there like the White Sox, Yankees, Red Sox & Dodgers, the holes that need to be filled will be done so with free agents.  The Twins cycle players out, rarely in.  They look for bargains.  They look for the ones that have a chip on their shoulder to return to a reputation they once had.  They look for the snarled veteran that wants a chance to win and play for a well run organization.  What do they not look for?  They don't look for a player coming off a career year.  They don't look for the guy that is going to get "paid" this off-season.  They don't look for guys that come with baggage.  They don't look for guys that are looking for their last contract before riding off into the sunset.  Sorry Twins fans, that means no Adrian Beltre, no Cliff Lee & probably no Carl Pavano.  No Adam Dunn, no Carl Crawford & no Jason Werth. 

 

The Importance of Depth

The Major League Baseball season can be a very long one.  The depth chart on day one is rarely the same on day 81 or 162.  Those teams that get enough production out of their starters to avoid any player demotions or stay healthy enough to keep the depth chart as together as possible are the ones that will have the best shot at the best records.  That being said, having serviceable Minor Leaguers that can come up to the big club and fill in for those guys are a huge plus.  This is something the Twins have.  The outfield, as mentioned before, is full of high end talent.  But are they MLB ready?  Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere and Joe Benson are probably not ready.  The Twins saw Revere up last year but he looks like he needs at least another half season to improve defensively and with his plate patience.  Twins fans would love to see Benson and Hicks next year but I don't see that happening.    Look more towards Rene Tosoni and Chris Parmalee for the outfield quick stops.  In the infield look for a Brendan Harris sighting along with Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe, Matt Tolbert & Alexi Casilla to fill out the remaining utility spots.

 

Prediction Segment

Here is what I see for the Opening Day 2011 Twins Roster:

Starters:

C- Mauer

1B - Morneau

2B - Nishioka

3B - Valencia

SS - Hardy

LF - Young

CF - Span

RF - Cuddyer

DH - Kubel

 

Bench:

C- Butera

INF: Casilla

INF: Tolbert

OF: Not sure - Repko type?

 

Starting Rotation:

SP: Liriano

SP: Baker

SP: Duensing

SP: Blackburn

SP: Slowey

 

Bullpen:

CL: Nathan

SU: Mijares

SU: Neshek

Mid: Slama

Mid: Delaney

Mid: Burnett

Lefty: Perkins

 

 

Ready And Waiting

Major League rosters usually see about 35 players during any given season.  Of these, usually about half are pitchers.  Here are some additional players Twins fans could see during the 2011 season.  Get to know them if you don't know them already.

C Jose Morales

INF - Brendan Harris

INF - Trevor Plouffe

INF - Luke Hughes

Util - Steve Singleton

Util - Chris Parmalee

OF - Ben Revere

OF - Rene Tosoni

OF - Joe Benson

RP - Spencer Steedley

RP - Yorman Bazardo

RP - Steve Hirschfeld

RP - Jeff Manship

SP - Kyle Gibson

SP - David Bromberg

SP - Anthony Swarzak

 

What To Do, What To Do?

Trying to think fiscally responsibly and evaluate what is best from a talent perspective I see the Twins doing a few things with the current roster.  

Lock up before 2011 season:

Delmon Young, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Francisco Liriano

Say goodbye to after 2011 season:

Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, JJ Hardy

Essential development:

A closer - The Twins need someone to step up and assume that role like Joe Nathan did in 2004.

Bullpen - Of the young three (Slama, Delaney, Burnett) someone needs to step up and become that reliable 7th/8th inning guy they so desperately need.

Danny Valencia - Must develop power to become the Twins long-term solution at 3B.

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